10 years of free entry to national museums 1 Dec 2011

National museums today celebrate a decade of free entry.  The free admission policy has been an overwhelming success, dramatically boosting visitor figures.  Over 50 million people visited the UK’s national museums last year, more than double the number before the re-introduction of universal free admission in December 2001.

“In the past ten years visits to the formerly charging national museums have increased by 150%,” said Dr Michael Dixon, Director of the Natural History Museum and Chair of the National Museum Directors’ Conference.  “The Natural History Museum has seen its visitor numbers rise almost threefold, from 1.7 million in 2000 to 4.8 million last year.  This is a fantastic testament to the huge public appetite for museums, the quality of our visitor offer and the success of the free admission policy.”  Visits to national museums which have always been free – such as the British Museum, National Gallery and Tate – have risen by 22% over the same period.

Free admission is more important than ever at a time of economic recovery, offering people free, inspiring experiences and attracting audiences from home and abroad.  Sandie Dawe, Chief Executive of VisitBritain said: “The UK has three of the top five most visited museums and galleries in the world, all of which are free to enjoy.  It is little wonder then that a visit to a museum is one of the most popular activities undertaken by many of the 30 million international visitors who come here each year.  As well as being major draws, we estimate that Britain’s unique culture and great heritage attracts £4.5bn worth of spending by inbound visitors annually and thereby underpins more than 100,000 jobs across the length and breadth of the country.”

A new generation of children has grown up enjoying free admission to the UK’s world class national collections.  Over 2 million more children now visit museums sponsored by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport than in 2000, with 8.3 million visits by children last year.  1 in 3 visits to the Royal Armouries in Leeds and the Science Museum in London were made by children under 16. 

The impact of free admission has been felt across the UK.  Last year 1.7 million visits were made to Wales’s seven national museums, with nearly 15 million visits in total over the decade of free entry.  Dr David Fleming, Director National Museums Liverpool said: "People don't just like their museums in Liverpool, they love them. In the ten years of free admission our visitor figures have increased fourfold.  We have a very diverse audience with people from all backgrounds.  There is an appetite for culture among Merseysiders and among our thousands of visitors who come from around the UK and from overseas."    

Free admission is only possible through the ongoing commitment of Central Government.  “The funding settlement for national museums in the last spending review recognised the front line nature of museum services and the importance of maintaining free admission,” said Dr Dixon.  “The current economic climate means an extremely difficult time for museums of all kinds, which are crucial to communities across the UK.  Whilst recognising that funding has been hit very hard, we hope Local Authorities can be as far-sighted as possible in decisions on cultural funding, as severe cuts in this area are counter-productive in so many ways.”

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